First off, as a fan, I find little joy in reporting this. It's a huge disappointment. It reminds me of the summer major league baseball went on strike and then spent nearly a decade trying to get their fans back. Only this could be worse.
As of yesterday, the first arrest of yakuza (Japanese mafia) members was made in connection with the betting scandal that came to light just before the Nagoya basho (touranment) last month. It sounds like this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The yakuza gangsters were part of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the nation's largest crime syndicate. The story of that can be read here.
The information began to come to light late in June, and as details emerged, Japan was shocked to discover that a number of the stars of the sport, including the top ranked Japanese native rikishi, Kotomitsuki, who got SACKED on the 4th of July. Whoa. He allegedly placed millions of yen worth of illegal bets through the mob, not on sumo bouts, but on baseball.
And Kotomitsuki was ranked really high--Ozeki. That's champion. Just below Grand Champion, Yokozuna. He was one of the deities..
Not only Kotomitsuki went down, though. A couple of dozen wrestlers, officials, and stablemasters bit the dust in the scandal, including a stablemaster named Otake, who borrowed nearly 30 million yen from Kotomitsuki to pay off the debts he himself had stacked up against the gangsters. Yikes.
The NHK is the Japanese national television station. For the past 57 years they have televised every sumo tournament. But, in light of the corruption, they opted to not broadcast the July basho in Nagoya. Shame is a big leverage tactic in Japan, I noticed while I was there, and this is evidence of how shameful the revelations were.
According to the story, in recent tournaments yakuza were given front row seats to the tournaments. I read in a different article that prior to the Nagoya tournament bouts each day, an announcer came over the loudspeaker and invited "anyone associated with organized crime to exit the building," which made me laugh at the image of a guy in an expensive suit looking around, pointing at himself, shrugging and then voluntarily getting up to leave. But it's a nice show of effort, right? Bless their hearts.
The sport has been rocked over the past three years with reports of horrible hazing (like that poor kid who got killed in training by the beer bottle beating) and bout-fixing.
I hope the sport can survive. Fans' tolerance level only goes so far. In Japan, there's a fan mentality pervading almost every aspect of life. If something is popular almost everyone likes it. If it goes out of favor, it can go out BIG time. Kind of precarious and teetering time for the national sport where the main skill necessary is balance.